Turkey Votes for President for First Time in History

A Turkish woman who lives in the Netherlands casting her ballot in the presidential elections on July 31. Turks living abroad voted earlier, with preliminary results reporting a low turnout. Photo by EPA/BGNES.

Millions of Turkish citizens are casting ballots on Sunday in the country's first direct presidential elections.

Some 53 million people are eligible to vote for a head of state to take over from Abdullah Gul, whose seven-year term expires on August 28.

Three options are offered in the polls, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is also a contender.

Erdogan is seeking to boost powers of the head of state and does not conceal his ambition to introduce a presidential system in Turkey, a country where this is currently a largely ceremonial office.

He has been Turkey's Prime Minister three times in a row and cannot aspire for another term due to internal party restrictions.

"Maybe this is my last rally as prime minister and AK Party chair. This is not a farewell. This can only be a farewell to the old Turkey," Hurriyet Daily News quoted him as telling a crowd of supporters on Saturday, when he held his last campaigning event.

Other candidates are the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)'s former Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu and Kurdish politician and lawyer Selahattin Demirtas.

Ihsanoglu's bid was jointly raised by the two big opposition parties, Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

The move was widely perceived as an attempt of the two parties to offer a "moderate Islamic" candidate to appeal to conservative voters whose support Erdogan has managed to draw over the past decade.

The OIC ex-Chairman chose bread ("ekmek" in Turkish, but also sounds like his first name) as a key symbol of his campaign. He told CHP members on Saturday that "the votes of the quiet masses will boom tomorrow and 'ekmek' will come out of the ballot...

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